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More than 85% of Top 500 Most Highly-Trafficked Websites Vulnerable

Elisa Cooper

Over the last 5 years, hacktivists have continued the practice of redirecting well-known domain names to politically motivated websites utilizing tactics such as SQL injection attacks and social engineering schemes to gain access to domain management accounts — and that, in and of itself, is not surprising.

But what IS surprising is the fact that less than 15% of the 500 most highly trafficked domains in the world are utilizing Registry Locking. Granted, Registry Locking is only available across 356 of the top 500 most highly trafficked domains, as not all Registries offer this service.

Registry Locking provides an additional level of security which virtually renders domains impervious to hacktivists, disgruntled employees and erroneous updates. Registry Locked domains are only editable when a unique security protocol is completed between the Registry and the Registrar.

Back in 2010 when I first reviewed the security settings for the top 300 most highly trafficked domains, less than 10% had implemented Registry Locking. So by now, I would have expected that the percentage Registry Locked domains would have increased significantly, but alas it has not.

I am still uncertain as to why the owners of such highly trafficked domains have not taken advantage of this additional layer of security. And as I stated back in 2010, I cannot imagine that the additional fees associated with employing this level of service are the deterrent.

I can only assume that the relatively low adoption rates are attributed to the fact that Registry Locking is still not widely available, and that most domain name owners are unaware of the existence of this service.

By Elisa Cooper, SVP Marketing and Policy at Brandsight, Inc.

Related topics: Cybersecurity, Cybersquatting, Domain Names, Registry Services


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Thanks for updating the survey of sites, George Kirikos  –  Sep 12, 2013 5:38 AM PDT

Thanks for updating the survey of sites, Elisa. Economics still apply, and a partial explanation would probably involve the costs involved. VeriSign hasn't openly published its fees for the registry lock for .com, but when ICANN approved the service they gave VeriSign unrestricted pricing for the service. Presumably VeriSign has chosen to price it too high, and thus fewer companies can afford it.

Another factor, as you suggest in the last sentence, might be that registrars don't promote it enough, and that's probably intertwined with costs mentioned above. Most registrars (including the "white-glove" ones like MarkMonitor) aren't posting public prices for it on their websites, and thus registrants aren't able to compare prices.

If it was priced on a cost-recovery basis, the costs should be minimal, i.e. on the order of $10 to $20 per "unlock" event (with no annual fees to place a domain name on registry lock or to maintain it in a locked state).

In a properly-designed system, the only time human-verification is really required (and thus when higher costs are faced) is when the registry lock is removed.** Adding it back can and should be totally automated. Removing the lock, and the "out-of-band" verification (by both registrars and the registry) that it requires, is what registrants are ultimately paying for.

**[To be accurate, there are different fine-grained states of the "lock", e.g. one can in theory prevent transfers, but allow nameserver changes, but in practical terms, I think most users would use the registry lock in an "all-or-nothing" manner, with the coarsest settings]

P.S. To show how low the costs George Kirikos  –  Sep 12, 2013 5:51 AM PDT

P.S. To show how low the costs could be, that $10 to $20 per "unlock" event (mentioned in my first comment above) should apply regardless of the number of domains involved in the event. In other words, the registrar (and registry) could unlock 1, 10, 50, 100, or 1000 or more domains all at once, in a bulk transaction (i.e. with a single out-of-band verification for the entire group of domains). That would lower the cost to end-users considerably, since the registrar could batch the requests if they aren't urgent. (Urgent requests could still be handled with a batch size of "1", with the registrant paying more than if it was in a group of say 50 others in a daily batch)

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